Whether you're planning dinner for two or looking for ideas for food to share over the Christmas season, Michele Guinness has some ideas
I can't believe it's Christmas again already. The years concertina, impressions become more vague and roll into one, but some memories are so vivid it seems as if they happened last year. Interestingly, they tend to be of the most difficult, not the happiest Christmases. They are the ones that turn out to be the most formative.
The Christmas I remember most was not when I was with family or friends or at church, but when I was alone, around 17-years-old, and a new Christian living at home with Jewish parents who were horrified at my new faith. My mother had sent me to dry all the bedroom windows, lest the condensation form puddles on window ledges that might damage carpet or curtains. Christmas Day was, after all, a day like any other.
As I stood at my post, wash leather in hand, with numb fingers and heavy heart, every bit of me yearned for Christmas dinner, presents, a tree. I longed to follow the people walking to the church at the top of our street. Suddenly, in one of those extraordinary, inexplicable ways, I became aware of a presence standing right next to me, so close I feared that if I reached out I might touch him. And it seemed as if a loving, gentle voice whispered in my head, "I am Emmanuel, God with you. I am all the party you need."
Now I have the company, the tree, the presents, more church than I know what to do with and, of course, the food, but I have never forgotten that Christmas all those years ago when I had nothing - and yet everything, because his presence was all I needed.
Here are some alternative Christmas goodies - a Christmas dinner that serves one or two people for those who prefer a quiet day or may be alone, a vegetarian offering that doubles as a stuffing for meat eaters, and a delicious tray bake to replace mince pies or Christmas cake for people like my brother, who won't eat dried fruit in any disguise. The latter can be cut into squares and given away as presents.
Individual Stuffed Turkey Breasts with Cranberry gravy
Serves 2 (but recipe can be doubled according to needs)
2 thickly cut turkey steaks
Quarter onion chopped very finely
100g (3.5oz) mushrooms chopped finely (or a tin of vacuum-packed chestnuts, chopped)
100g (3.5oz) cream cheese
4 rashers lean smoky bacon
For the gravy: 150 mls (1/4 pint) bought gravy with 2 tbsp cranberry sauce.
Cut a slit in each turkey steak lengthways to form a pocket.
Fry the finely chopped onion until golden, then add the mushrooms and cook quickly on high heat for around one minute. (If using chestnuts, remove the onions from the heat, and simply stir in). Allow to cool and drain off any liquid, then bind together with the cream cheese.
Fill both steak pockets with the mixture, then wrap the steaks with two bacon rashers to hold them together. Cover and bake on Gas mark 6/200C or 190C fan oven for around 30 mins. Remove the cover and brown for a further 10 minutes.
Serve with the cranberry gravy.
Cranberry Cashew Nut Loaf
25g (1oz) butter
One small red onion chopped finely
225g (8oz) chopped roasted cashew nuts
125g (4oz) fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs
1tbsp chopped sage
garlic, salt and pepper
Two medium eggs beaten
75g (3oz) crumbled stilton
75g (3oz) fresh or dried cranberries
Melt the butter in a pan and fry finely chopped red onion until soft. Add all the other ingredients, except the cranberries.
Grease a 700g loaf tin, line the base with baking parchment and sprinkle with dried cranberries. Spoon half the mixture into the tin, level the surface, then make another layer of cranberries. Spoon over the rest of the nut mixture and level again. Bake on Gas mark 4/180C (160C for fan oven) for 45 minutes or until golden brown. Leave to cool slightly, then turn out and slice.
75g (3oz) sugar
150g (50z) butter or good quality margarine
250g (9oz) plain flour
100g (3.5oz) butter or good quality margarine
100g (3.5oz) sugar
2 tbsp golden syrup
One can condensed milk
One bar good quality (fair trade) plain or milk chocolate
Make the base by rubbing all the ingredients together, then pressing into a 200 cm by 290 cm swiss roll tin. Bake on Gas 3/170C (150C fan oven) for 15 mins or so, till firm. Remove from oven and cool.
For the filling - melt the butter, syrup and sugar in a heavy-based pan, then add the condensed milk. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 7 minutes, stirring all the time to prevent it catching on the bottom. Pour over the shortbread and allow to set.
Finally, melt the chocolate in a bowl, over a pan of boiling water and spread over the mixture.